SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Last week, the City of Savannah, community partners and volunteers began planting the hundreds of trees they’ve grown at local urban nurseries over the past few years.
It’s the culmination of the city’s Urban Tree Nursery Project, for which it received a two-year, $230,000 grant from the Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund in 2018.
The money allowed the city’s Office of Sustainability to work on developing three urban tree nurseries on vacant city lots through 2020.
Rows of healthily growing trees planted in colorful pots painted by local kids are located at nurseries on East Gwinnett Street, Augusta Avenue and Mills B. Lane Boulevard.
While also beautifying the neighborhoods where they’re planted, these species are better able to withstand the impacts of flooding and intense storms.
Severe weather events like 2016’s Hurricane Matthew have had a detrimental impact on Savannah’s tree canopy in recent years.
“Once we plant them permanently, they can really help alleviate and reduce flooding impacts to homes and streets over time,” said City of Savannah sustainability director, Nick Deffley.
“We cleared up those properties, and through a workforce training program with unemployed and underemployed residents from those three neighborhoods, we started to build out and design drip irrigation systems, bring in the trees, teach all the apprentices about arbor care, tree care, horticulture and landscaping,” Deffley told WSAV NOW.
“Then they actually learned how to plant these trees and how to set up the irrigation systems,” he said of the paid apprenticeship program.
The three urban nurseries are growing over 550 native tree species, including bald cypress, river birch and tupelo trees.
“We’ve got magnolias, which are just really coming along well, very beautifully,” Deffley said. “We’ve got eastern red cedar and live oak, of course.”
The city’s partnerships with Loop It Up Savannah, Work Source Georgia, the Savannah Tree Foundation and other organizations have helped make the project possible.
“We’ve been working with Nick Deffley to identify places to put trees in the ground in the neighborhoods where the nurseries are,” said Zoe Rinker, executive director with the Savannah Tree Foundation.
“This was just the first batch [of] 37 that we put in the ground this season, and we already have plans over the summer to identify many more places that they can go into the ground in the fall,” said Rinker.
Trees have so far been planted in areas including lots near the East Gwinnett Street and Mills B. Lane Boulevard urban tree nurseries.
Rinker noted that the current season to plant trees has ended, which is why planting will resume around October.
“A lot of them are outgrowing the pots, which is great, but that means that we need to get them in the ground sooner rather than later,” she added.
The grant funding period has ended, according to Deffley, but the city and its partners aim to keep developing the project, which includes a beautification component.
Some of the vacant lots where trees have already been planted in the ground, like the one at West 50th Street, will eventually be converted into pocket parks, Deffley says.
“We’ve been planning and trying to build up a program that we can continue to have these trees growing and continuing to be planted over years to come,” he said.